The Grizzly is an annual event organised by Axe Valley Runners and has happened every March since 1988. It is very popular and is always over subscribed. The Grizzly is twentyish muddy, hilly, boggy, beachy miles of the multiest-terrain running experience. There is also a shorter race called the Grizzly Cub which starts at the same time as the Grizzly. The race starts and finishes at Seaton in East Devon and follows a very hilly route.
I have run the Grizzly many times before. It is always a very hard race. In the days when I was a proper runner, training 30+ miles a week, I would usually be running the London Marathon in a few weeks after the Grizzly, so I would be quite fit. Now that I am more of a cyclist than a runner I had done very little preparation for this year’s Grizzly and haven’t run a race since the Middle Distance Triathlon last June. So it was with some trepidation that I lined up at the start with one of my daughters, who is a runner!
From the start on the esplanade at Seaton the route is immediately harsh as it goes onto the shingly, stony beach for about half a mile to Axmouth. Then we came back along the esplanade through the start, which is great, as there are lots of people there to support the runners. Of course from sea level it’s then upwards. Hills occur with monotonous regularity throughout the Grizzly and as well as the 20 miles to run there is over 3,500 feet of ascent.
The weather for this years Grizzly was superb – warm and sunny with light winds. (Last year it was freezing cold, windy and it snowed). There were wonderful views that kept emerging as we went up and down. This one shows the view from above Beer back to Seaton,
and this one looking down to Branscombe.
One of the really great things about the Grizzly is that Axe Valley Runners have become experts at organising it. There are hundreds of wonderful volunteer marshals who not only direct the runners to the correct route but shout words of encouragement at us too. This really helps.
The descent to Branscombe Mouth is steep and the runners then run along the stream bed for 100 metres or so – getting thoroughly wet! A steel band on the beach keeps a good rhythm going.
Another band at about 9 miles was also a welcome diversion. The spring weather was very welcome and allowed the bands to play outdoors.
There is no shortage of mud on the Grizzly which only makes the effort required to cover the miles even greater.
There are a few occasions where the route overlaps and you can see people ahead and also those who are behind. I saw my daughter Kathryn twice and she was a couple of miles ahead of me!
There were 10 drinks stations offering water. The marshals seemed to have an unlimited supply of jelly babies, wine gums and Haribo to hand out. At 12 miles there was Battenburg cake and flapjack. I had both!
The theme of mud and hills continued.
At 12 miles there is the ‘bog of doom’. This is an area in a stream bed that has deep, gloopy mud. Unfortunately my camera ran out of battery at this point! The bog lasts for about 100 energy sapping metres and is, of course, followed by another really steep hill. The hilly, muddy theme continues back to Branscombe Mouth after which about a mile of shingle and pebbles must be negotiated before reaching Beer Head. The 250’ ascent from sea level to the top of the cliff is reached by climbing the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. This year I was in a procession and was forced to take it easy. I was expecting to run on strongly down the hill to Beer but unfortunately the cramp in my calves that had been threatening for several miles took grip with a vengeance and I was reduced to a slow hobble! The remaining 3 miles back to Seaton had more walking than I would have liked but my untrained legs had had enough and kept cramping. However, the sea front at Seaton eventually came into view and I was able to run reasonably well down to the finish.
Kathryn took this photo of me finishing as she had finished 40 minutes ahead of me in 3.5 hours.
The Devon and Somerset Fire fighters are at the finish with an appliance and help to hose off the mud.
All that remained was for a celebratory photograph in our well-earned, splendid Grizzly t shirts – and the sun was still shining.